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Ontario government to allow more healthcare privatization: NDP

A so-called ‘super agency’ that would centralize Ontario’s healthcare in Toronto.

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Eli Ridder | Report

A leaked confidential draft bill from Premier Doug Ford’s Ontario government released by the New Democratic Party on Thursday outlines a plan to create an overarching health agency to establish efficiencies, allowing more privatization.

The so-called “super agency”, that would be set up with the Health System Efficiency Act 2019 would centralize powers to “designate” providers of integrated care to serve at least two healthcare wings: hospital care, primary care, mental health and others.

The draft bill wipes Local Health Integration Networks and gives the power to “consider whether to adjust the funding to take into account a portion of the savings from efficiencies that the super agency generated in the previous fiscal year”.

The legislation was leaked by the New Democrats, days after the Toronto Star reported the PC’s plans for the agency. NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said earlier Thursday that “it’s very clear in this bill that the privatization of healthcare is the agenda.”

Minister of Health Christine Elliott dismissed Horwath’s claims that her government plans to further privatize the healthcare system — saying that the New Democrats “got pretty much everything wrong. We are committed to our public healthcare system.”

Elliot did not go into further detail, but confirmed that the leaked legislation was legitimate.


‘Farm out’ healthcare: NDP

Andrea Horwath said the Health System Efficiency Act would “farm out” healthcare services to other organizations, including private providers — saying that it also proves the Progressive Conservatives will not be conducting public consultations in good faith.

The legislation was preceded by a public report from Dr. Rueben Devlin of Premier Ford’s Council on Improving Health Care and Ending Hallway Medicine, a handpicked panel of 11 senior administrators that is led by a close ally of Ford.

The report said that increasing the number of beds in Ontario’s health-care system won’t on its own solve the problem of hospital overcrowding and that too many patients head to emergency rooms for conditions that could be treated elsewhere.

The Devlin report and leaked bill show a PC government prepared to attack the provincial tradition of public healthcare, Horwath said, adding that “if Doug Ford plows ahead with this healthcare privatization bill, he has got one hell of a fight on his hands.”

The opposition New Democrats during the provincial election last year promised to expand and invest further in the universal healthcare system for Ontario, working to add dental care into the coverage.

Minister Elliott said that the New Democrats has been “crying wolf” about the privatization of healthcare for years, including under the previous government of Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal Party.


Liberals support local care

The Liberal Party’s interim leader, John Fraser, welcomed the Devlin report as it found “much to be proud of within our healthcare system” but “identified common barriers to access in our system” — including community care “close to home”.

“Navigation is a serious barrier to care in our system and it must be addressed to improve the lives of those who need care,” Fraser wrote in a statement released by the Liberals on Thursday.

“The solutions to the challenges our health care system faces are community-based. They depend on local leadership being given the capacity to drive the outcomes their communities need.”

Fraser said that the report shows Premier Ford’s government is attempting to take decision-making out of local communities and centralize them in Toronto — saying that Ford is “heading rapidly in the opposite direction of what is outlined in this report.”

Noting that the report calls for more investment in mental health, MPP for Ottawa-South Fraser says that the “government has drastically cut planned investments in mental health.”

“Healthcare isn’t one-size fits all and improving our health care system is not a job with an end date,” he went on, adding that is it ongoing, complex and costly work but that it “is not simply a balance sheet — it’s about people and families and their care.”

“The people of this province need to be the first consideration in health-care decision making,” he concluded.


‘Disturbing, if true’: Campus Liberals

The University of Guelph Young Liberals told The Avro Post that “the news is indeed disturbing, if true”, adding that “even more concerning is the obvious absence of any moderation on the policies coming out of the premier’s office over the past month.”

“Ford’s ministers continue to leak radical policies and expects us o applaud when they rein them in,” the Liberals added.

The Avro Post has reached out to the University of Guelph Conservatives and New Democrats for statements, as well as party members at Guelph-Humber.


Image of Christine Elliot from her website.

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Campus

Province appealing to restore Student Choice Initiative

An Ontario court ruled against the SCI in November.

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File photo of Premier Doug Ford.

The provincial government under the Progressive Conservatives is applying for leave to file an appeal against a ruling from the Divisional Court of Ontario that overturned the Student Choice Initiative.

A leave for appeal is a procedural measure that must be taken before an appeal is heard by the Court. Thus, the ruling of the Court stands and the SCI continues to be deemed unlawful.

The initiative, known as the SCI, was introduced earlier this year and came into play this fall semester. It allowed students to opt-out of paying certain “non-essential” ancillary fees that fund student unions, campus publication and other post-secondary organizations across the province.

The mandate came from the university and colleges ministry and was not passed through Queen’s Park. PC Party officials insisted to The Avro Post that it allowed for freedom of choice, allowing students to pay only for services that they felt was worth their financial support.

In response, the provincial division of the Canadian Federation of Students and York University’s student union filed a legal challenge against the SCI, stating that they failed to consult with students and should not have interfered with the autonomy of student unions.

Judges ruled unanimously in November to throw out the SCI, an unexpected victory for student allies. They found that the government has “no legal power to control the universities even if it wished to”.

A brief filed by the province on Monday evening states that the ruling restricts the authority to attach conditions to the funding given to public colleges and universities, according to reports by student newspapers.

“Attaching conditions to government grants in no way interferes with university autonomy and independence,” the brief reads, adding that post-secondary institutions “remain free” to accept taxpayer dollars, subject to the conditions that come along with the funding.

Over $5 billion comes from provincial coffers to the province’s 21 publicly assisted universities and 24 funded colleges. The Progressive Conservatives argue that the introducing optional student fees is an attempt to allow students to save more financially.

The court ruling, however, pointed out that the optional ancillary fees are a small portion of what students pay in tuition and other fees. For students at Humber College and the University of Guelph-Humber, there was only a charge of $55.95 compared to hundreds in overall fees.

The Winter 2020 semester starts in January and fees are due shortly. Some campuses are currently considering their legal options for removing the opt-out option for ancillary fees, The Globe and Mail reported.

IGNITE did not participate in the lawsuit against the province and did not offer support. The student union also refused to respond to the November ruling against the SCI until the government gave a statement. ■

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High school teachers launch day-long strike

The OSSTF is now on strike.

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Photo for demonstration via Pexels.

The union representing public high school teachers launched a one-day strike on Wednesday morning after a deadline for a deal was missed, the first strike in 22 years by the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation.

This means that classes are cancelled at public and Catholic high schools for the day. The bargaining team for the union had remained in their caucus room since 9 a.m. on Tuesday morning but there was no provincial representation, OSSTF said.

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Administrations, unions give varied response to SCI ruling

The U of T was first to close the SCI.

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File photo.

On Nov. 21, the Ontario Divisional Court deemed the Ford government’s Student Choice Initiative unlawful and the reaction has varied from sending the optional fees website offline to waiting on the Ford government’s response.

On Monday, Nov. 25, the University of Toronto responded by being the first university in Ontario to email its students informing them that they would be freezing the “incidental fees portal” while they took stock.

In an email to students from Vice-Provost Sandy Welsh, University of Toronto students were informed that the school was evaluating the “technical impact” of the court’s decision, and that there would be updates to come. 

In a graphic posted on their social media, Sheridan College said “Sheridan is monitoring the situation to see what course of action the government chooses to take. Until we receive a new directive, we’ll continue under the current one, which allows students to opt-out of paying certain fees.”

Few other post-secondary institutions have posted a public update about the new evolution in the implementation of the province of Ontario’s “Tuition Fee Framework and Ancillary Fee Guidelines” document. [hyperlink: http://www.tcu.gov.on.ca/pepg/mtcu-university-tuition-framework-guidelines-mar2019-en.pdf]

The University of Guelph has not released a statement yet, but administration has advised its student union, the Central Student Association, that large institutions can take time to implement legal decisions, and that figuring out mechanics with which to reverse the ”Student Choice Initiative” will take some time. 

While the government of Ontario has not yet commented on the releases, there is speculation that they are considering an appeal. In a statement on Friday November 22nd, spokesperson Clara Bryne wrote, “The Ministry of Colleges and Universities is currently reviewing the decision released yesterday. We will have more to say on this at a later date.”

Canadian Federation of Students – Ontario National Executive Representative, and the CFS representative in the legal proceedings, Kayla Weiler, said “we haven’t had any confirmation if there will be an appeal or not, and […] we’re hoping the government will respect the unanimous decision of the panel of judges and respect student democracy”

In its reasons, the Divisional Court said, “The University Guidelines [SCI] … are beyond the scope of the crown’s prerogative power over spending because they are contrary to the statutory autonomy conferred on universities by statute.”

Referring specifically to section seven of the Ontario Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology Act wherein governments are prevented from interfering with the “normal activities” of student governing bodies – specifically the court ruled that “normal activities” the government is precluded from includes; “reducing or eliminating the funding used by student associations.” ■

Reporting by Jack Fisher; 
Editing by Eli Ridder.
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